Sugary Cereals Peddled to Kids Despite Obesity Epidemic

June 22, 2005 — -- General Mills -- one of the country's largest cereal companies -- is launching its largest ad campaign ever, and it is aimed directly at children.

The company's "Choose Breakfast" campaign -- with commercials just 10 seconds long -- simply promotes the benefits of eating breakfast.

No specific product is mentioned in the commercials, but General Mills will feature its cereals -- everything from the "sober" Cheerios to the more sugary concoctions like Cocoa Puffs and Trix.

"We truly believe in the power of cereal. It's a great breakfast. It's a great nutritional way to start the day," said General Mills' chief marketing officer Mark Addicks.

The ad campaign comes in the midst of concerns over childhood obesity and criticism of companies that market sweetened cereals to children.

"The companies are trying to protect the better part of its business, but also at the same time trying to take the nutritional high ground," said Burt Flickinger, managing partner of the Strategic Resources Group, a business consulting firm.

But some nutrition experts say General Mills is wrong when it implies that eating any cereal for breakfast -- even one high in sugar and salt -- is healthy.

'Many Cereals Little Better Than Candy'

"Many cereals peddled to children in particular are little better than candy you pour milk over that happen to have a multi-vitamin thrown in for good measure," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine and an ABC News consultant.

General Mills insists all its cereals -- made with whole grains -- are healthy for kids.

It says government figures show cereal accounts for 5 percent of a child's sugar intake. And it says cereal and skim milk are lower in calories than many other popular breakfasts.

Some mothers say they're not swayed by the claims.

"I'd give my kid a banana before I'd feed them a bowl of Kix with 27 grams of sugar in one serving," said one mother interviewed by ABC News.

But General Mills isn't marketing to moms, and the company knows its young audience.

ABC News' Lisa Stark filed this report for "World News Tonight."